Put up for Thanksgiving at a San Antonio radio station website:
If I have a “main” story about gratitude in meeting a musician, it is my longtime friend Warren Jones that I have to talk about.
I started graduate school at the San Francisco Conservatory in the fall of 1974. The graduate school class was small – 20 or so. Many of us had accomplished some good things as musicians, but one of us, Warren Jones, was rumored to be the most significant of us. I didn’t know him at all.
We took a class together that met in the evening. Around dinner time I was in a practice room, working on the Oboe Concerto by Richard Strauss. The door burst open.
“Do you have a piano score for that?”
It was Warren. He’s a good bit taller than me and in those days dressing in ways that I would have to call bold and colorful. I was intimidated to say the least.
“Yes I do,” I said.
“Well let me play it.”
So Warren sat down at the piano in the practice room and started to play the first movement with me. It suddenly made musical sense that it hadn’t made before. Suddenly there was time for all the things I needed to do, breathe, extra time to elongate or emphasize part of a phrase, and much more. Now I knew why Warren had the reputation that exceeded the rest of us by so much.
This, and more, was written by Mark Ackerman. Do people from around here remember him?
So, I just tried to record a few more videos with my iPhone. The sound is pretty thin and … well … yucky (like the one below). While I have thought about posting videos of me showing various things I think are important (hand position, embouchure, breathing…), I’d prefer not having everyone think I sound as bad as all that. So do tell … what do you all use to post videos? Or is the iPhone really a good representation of how I play and is it time to quit? Hmmm.
Some of my students are reed swallowers. I was listening to an oboist on YouTube and the player took so much reed in that you couldn’t see a speck of the cane … the mouth was all the way to the thread. I take in very little reed. I will foolishly and bravely put up a very short video of me demonstrating how much reed is in my mouth. When I did this video I had absolutely no intention of putting it on the blog; I had a student use my iPhone to get this so she could then compare my embouchure and flat chin to her swallowing of the reed and what I call “bunchy chin”. Both of us played the same piece so she could also compare intonation and sound. But really, I wasn’t planning on showing this to another soul! (In other words, do be expecting much from this!)
So as you can see, there’s a lot of cane showing. (This video will not stay up for long; I’m not at all comfortable with the sound … or that face!)
Here’s a photo of my embouchure … a little more bearable for me to see this than hear and see the above:
I wish I could find the video the person who was playing (beautifully, by the way) and swallowing the reed.
So … how much reed do you take in? Do tell!
I am thinking about this at the moment for several reasons. For one, I was pondering why I take in less reed. I believe it has to do with control. Any part of the reed that is vibrating inside my mouth and isn’t touching the lip cannot be controlled. Call me a control freak, but I like to have control of the darn reeds! If I take in more reed my pitch center is thrown as well, and I can’t stand the tone. Yet some people can produce a lovely sound that way. I’m assuming reeds must be quite different.
And that brings me to the other reason I’ve been thinking of this. I recently purchased some reeds from a reed maker someone had recommended. (I’m looking for additional suppliers for my students, and I don’t want them to randomly spend money so I attempt to try a few reeds by various makers before giving them names.) The reeds are much shorter than what I’m used to … only 68mm long, and the reed maker uses a 46mm staple. The odd thing is, I was horrendously flat on them! Odd! I tried playing around with embouchure to see what it would take to bring them up to pitch. I had to pull the corners of my mouth back and bite a bit (possibly resulting in a bunchy chin, although I didn’t pay attention to that). I just can’t go there. At least not comfortably.
Okay, reed and embouchure ramble over and out.
And stop laughing about how I look and my sound, please!
I’ve never met Maestro Conlon. I sure appreciated this video, and it makes me wish I could meet him!
Every time I go out there I rehearse or conduct as if it were the last day and the last time and the last chance to get that piece to come to life. And every time I go out I think there could be an eleven year old out there, an eight year old, a twenty-five year old or somebody who’s eighty or eighty-five whose life can change because of your performance and they deserve 100% of your commitment. That means your mind, your body, your soul, your emotions, everything. You know there’s an expression, “You’re as good as your last performance.” That weighs on me every day.